This is a well timed interview as Marie-Ève just won the Gold medal at the Commonwealth Games only a few days ago. Marie-Ève is an incredible athlete who has quite an interesting story to tell. Her achievements are many. On top of the Gold medal she won at the 2014 CWG (75kg category), she claimed a silver medal at the 2010 CWG in the same weight category. At the 2012 Olympic Games, she finished 8th and won her group (B group). She is consistently rank top 15 in the Worlds as well. Her story is one of perseverance, hard work, and passion… and is quite inspiring. We discuss technique, sport training vs weightlifting, how training evolves through the years, training conditions and more.
Without further ado, here is the interview :
- How did you get started in weightlifting? How old were you? Was weightlifting love at first sight?
When in high school, I was doing track and field, 60m, 100m and 200m dash. My coach then told me to go do weightlifting do enhance my power for the starts, so I went to the newly opened weightlifting club in my school to try it out. I was 15 at that time and I didn’t even know what weightlifting was. I really enjoyed myself from the beginning and continued to do weightlifting and sprinting at the same time for one year, and then I stopped sprints to concentrate on weightlifting.
- What kind of training sessions did you have to go through at that time?
I was a little bit crazy at the beginning. When I was doing sprints and weightlifting, I had weightlifting sessions three times a week for two hours, and I always selected the days which were less popular so I could get more coaching attention! I really loved progressing so fast. I was also training for sprints two times a week and my physical education classes were transformed into training sessions also, so I would do about two other trainings then, but not necessarily sprints or weightlifting. The next year, when I decided I wanted to concentrate solely on weightlifting, I was training 9 times a week in weightlifting, and I added about two more training sessions by my physical education classes! And I was not doing some kind of sport-study program. I was training from 7 to 9 before classes three times a week, from 5 to 7-7:30 after school every day, and once during the weekend!
- Were you serious from the start about weightlifting or did you somewhat ease into it as time went along?
As I explained in the last question, I think I can say I was quite serious about it from the beginning!
- Many female lifters in Quebec got started because of the successes of lifters like Maryse Turcotte or Jeane Lasen. Did you have a weightlifter role model as well?
Maryse Turcotte came to my high school to do a speech, and that is why the club opened in my school the next year, but I didn’t see the speech and only learned about it after more than one year of training… My first ever role model as a weightlifter was actually another woman from my club. Her name was Danielle Gagnon, and when I saw her lift in my first ever competition, I said to myself that if I was ever going to be as strong as her, I would be very strong! She actually was a provincial level lifter. It seemed to me that compering myself or looking up to an Olympian was an unatainable objective!
- To you, how different is it to be a weightlifter in comparison to practicing weightlifting for another sport (as a mean of physical preparation)?
When you do weightlifting to be a weightlifter, everything you do in training aims to get you to snatch more and clean and jerk more, and do I need to specify, in competition (because nobody cares what you can do in training if you can’t do it on the competition platform). Everything revolves around power (strength and speed), technique and mental preparation. And the more I go along in my weightlifting career, the more I realize how efficacy and technique are important. On the other hand, if you do weightlifting as physical preparation, the goal is entirely different. You will have specific objectives (as being more powerful, more flexible, having better proprioception, etc.) and training will aim to attain those objectives, whether or not you lift more in snatch or clean and jerk (which will probably happen anyway, but not as a primary goal). Whatever the training you are doing, I think it is best to always remember why you are training, and not only follow someone else’s idea of a what is best for you. If you want to gain strength specifically, doing overhead squats might not be the priority in your training.
- How long have you been lifting so far? What do you think is/are the best lesson(s) that you learned from those years of competitive weightlifting?
I started to do weightlifting at 15 in 2003. In a couple of months, I will have 11 years of weightlifting background! Time goes so fast! The very first (and probably the most important) lesson I have learned, is to never let go of my dreams, whatever the obstacles. What is ahead of you might seem like a huge mountain to climb, but nobody climbs a mountain in one step. The only thing that is really important is the next step. And since you never know what is coming up, it is useful to have a general plan of what is ahead, but most importantly is to be able to modify that plan if it needs to be. Nobody gets to the Olympic Games without setbacks. Every single person I have met who achieved great things had major things to change in their plans along the way. What makes them who they are and what permitted them to achieve great things is that capacity of never letting go.
- Fast forward to today, how different is your training?
I listen to myself a lot more! When I was younger, I had a plan, and I did it no matter what. I was feeling terrible when I skipped even one set or even if I missed one lift, I was always doing it again until I succeeded. Now, as I train mostly by myself (my coach lives 6 hours from where I live), I do my own plans (which I share with my coach and which he helps me make better), but I tend to make had plans. A lot of sets, and a lot of intensity training. Right now, I am working on my efficacy, because my strength and speed are not exploited enough in my lifts. But having high intensity training is hard on the body and it would need more rest than what I give it (I also work more than full time), so I have learned to listen to myself more. When I know I am more tired, I lower the intensity of my training or a modify my plan more radically to help me rest more. I can even skip a training once in a while if I need it! Hahaha.
- How are your training conditions? What about sponsors and funding, are there any?
Right now, I am in Rouyn-Noranda (7 hours north of Montreal) because I am actually doing my medical training to be a general partitioner. I will be done in a little less than a year. So I am training in a little club which does not have a lot of athletes. My boyfriend (weightlifter as well) came to spend the summer with me there, so we mostly train on our own. Unfortunately, when he goes back to school, I will probably train alone most of the times. But I have access to fully equipped gym whenever I want, so I can manage my tough work schedules. So to fully summarize things, I work a lot (40-60h per week), I don’t rest much, I train alone, but I can manage my schedules as I want and train as much as I want (or can). I know these are really not the best training conditions, but I will be done with medical training in less than a year, and then I will be able to have a life that makes more sense!
As of founding, I have access to the government Athlete Assistance Program, which would be enough to live well and pay for my sporting needs. In the last years, I also had help from a couple of foundations, most importantly the Fondation de l’athlète d’excellence du Québec, but I didn’t apply for help from them this year since I am now getting payed for my work in the hospital and I figured other athletes needed that money more than me. I have had a couple of sponsors in the year of the Olympic Games: Première Moisson was giving me bread and cold meat, and I got a couple of hundreds of dollars from Uniprix (a local pharmacy) and my local deputy from the provincial government. As of right now, I don’t have any sponsor, except from my physio that makes me a special price (through the Institut national du sport de Montréal).
- According to you, what are the most important technical aspects of the snatch and clean and jerk?
In my opinion, for the snatch and the clean, what really makes a huge difference to make a successful lift is the first pull. I have found that if I can get to the knees in a good position, having my weight on my mid-foot and my back at the good angle, I rarely miss a lift. Being in the right position a that specific moment gives me the opportunity to use my power maximally and the rest of the trajectory of the lift will generally go by itself.
As of the jerk, I think that what matters the most is not the push of the bar, but the descent. If I can go down at the right speed (not too fast and not too slow, otherwise the rebound of the bar will crush me) and stay in a quite straight position (the weight on my back-to-mid-food, straight back and tight shoulder position), the push will almost be done by itself (rebound of the bar) and the catch will be easy since the bar will go straight overhead. A lot less energy waste!
10. Being a full time med student with internships, how hard is it really to combine studies and competitive weightlifting?
I have always trained and studied at the same time, except when I was preparing for the Olympic Games in 2011-2012. Every year, it has been getting harder and harder to manage (from high school to cegep, then to university, then starting the rotations and now the residency). I don’t think I could have done what I am doing right now a few years ago, but doing more and more one step at a time has given me the experience I needed to prepare for the next step. Hopefully, it doesn’t get even harder, hahaha. Right now, I work long shifts, I am at work usually around 7:30 in the morning and finish around 6 to 8 at night. I also work about one weekend out of three. So training comes after the job, and I often finish my training around 11 at night. I even finished past midnight a few times. So no, what I am doing right now is not easy, but my weightlifting results continue to grow, I continue to get better. Would I get even better if I were not working? Maybe. Maybe not. Nobody knows. I would probably have less injury risk, but at the same time, I am aware of that and I am very careful, so I have not been injured a lot lately.
11. Your accomplishments are incredible! You competed at the Olympic Games in 2012 where you ranked 8th. How would you sum up the experience?
The Olympic Games were an incredible opportunity for me. The year before the olympics even more. I went to training camps, spoke to a lot of people and learned a lot from that year, about weightlifting and about myself. I try to use what I have learned during that year and build on it. As of the main event, the Olympic Games were a great experience also. I arrived there fully prepared, not too stressed, but still stressed enough to perform well. I was very close to my personal bests, and to achieve that in such a big event made me very happy.
12. At the 2013 Worlds, your 139kg clean and jerk was turned down which I thought was a bad call. Anyhow, on march 29th at the Classique d’haltérophilie du Quebec, you made a 141kg clean and jerk. You snatched 110kg on that day as well. How does it feel to have broken the barrier of the 140’s? Should we expect a 115-145kg soon?
I really don’t see numbers as barriers. From 139 to 140, it is only a matter of one kg, and I know that it is even easier to lift 140 than 139 because of the rebound of the bar (you add a 10kg plate to the two 25kg at 140kg on a woman’s bar). So doing 141kg in last march was kind of a revenge for the refused 139kg of the last World Championships (which would have given me bronze in the clean and jerk by the way, grrrrrrr), but not the break of a barrier. I definitely aim to do 115-145kg pretty soon. I think 145 might come before 115 (even if I am already stronger at the clean and jerk), but I am working really hard on my snatches!
13. You also competed in powerlifting at one meet if I’m not mistaken. I think you might have even broken some records. How did you like the experience? How different was it to prepare for that meet in comparison to a weightlifting meet?
I participated in a powerlifting competition to see what I could do in the powerlifting conditions (dead lift without straps, squats without knee wraps, specific preparation for PR at those movements, etc.). I did 185kg in the squat, 195kg in the dead lift and 75kg in the bench press. I really liked what I went trough that day, because it was all knew and I was very curious about what a powerlifting might feel like. I would have liked to go to Canadian championships, but it happened to be at the same time as the weightlifting Canadian championships, so I didn’t go. I met a bunch of knew people, very nice people. The big difference I noticed in the powerlifting competition, is that everything was more friendly. I don’t feel that weightlifting isn’t friendly, but you definitely feel the tension of the competition in weightlifting, when in powerlifting, it felt more like a bunch of friends getting together to see what everyone could do.
I didn’t really prepare for the meet. I did some bench press two times before the competition (I never do bench presses because it causes me sharp shoulder pain) with one of the powerlifters I was training with at that time, and I tried doing dead lift without straps only once before the competition to have an idea of my starting attempts. I also asked the powerlifter I was training with what exactly were the rules in competition (two days before the competition!). So I did it to have fun, to try new stuff, but I did take it seriously when I was there. On the contrary, I never do a weightlifting competition “just for fun”. There is almost always a specific goal (a qualification of some sort or it is a very big competition like the World championships or the big games), so I prepare much longer before in order to be really ready for the meet.
14. Which competition are you training for at the moment? Also, is Rio 2016 a goal of yours?
I am coming back from the Commonwealth Games right now (which went very well by the way, 110-140kg, first place and two Commonwealth games records at the clean and jerk and at the total). The next step are the 2014 World Championships in next november. That competition is of primary importance since it is the first qualification event for the next Olympic Games. Our team will need to be ready and everybody at his best! We will then need to prepare for the 2015 World Championships, the second part of the main qualification event. I am definitely looking forward to Rio 2016. As I was saying, qualifications have not started yet, but I will do all I have to do to be there!
15. What do you think of the Canadian weightlifting scene? According to you, what are we lacking to produce more elite athletes and grow our number of athletes?
We are doing something special in weightlifting in Canada. We don’t get much funding, athletes are mostly training on their own, we don’t have a national training program, and still we manage (at least for the women) to get really good international rankings. I think it might get harder and harder to compete at international level because more and more countries participate each year and the athletes don’t stop getting stronger. Anyhow, Canadian athletes are still very performant (3rd place in 2012 Olympic Games, 5th place in 2014 World Championships, etc.), so we are definitely doing a lot of good things. Is it only the athletes’ own hard training, with the help of his coach? I don’t think so, because otherwise there would not have been a series of amazing athletes in the last more than 15 years!
But I think Canadian weightlifting lacks numbers. With more athletes, the level of performances would most probably grow as well. One thing I think we are not doing enough, is using weightlifting as a tool for other sports. Kinesiologists and physical preparators use weightlifting very often to permit the athletes they are coaching to get better at their sport, but nobody would coach weightlifting better than a weightlifting coach! The problem is that most of our coaches are doing the coaching for free. They need a job and don’t have time enough to start coaching athletes from other sports. If most of the coaching in weightlifting as physical preparation was made by people who know the sport very well, I think that weightlifting would become more known and that a lot of myths would fall as well. A growing popularity of the sport would lead to a greater number of younger athletes and probably more elite athletes.
16. What do you think of FirstPull.net as an effort to promote Canadian weightlifting?
I think it is a great blog. I have read a couple of them and it always seems to complement what I was thinking, but not able to put into words. With the rising popularity of crossfit, a lot of people have questions about weightlifting and I think FirstPull.net is a great place to get info. Also, more and more athletes tend to train on their own and feel a little lost in all of the training planning and organizing, Firstpull.net can help those people as well.
17. Any final words?
I think I have said enough already! Hahaha. Thank you very much for the blog and for giving weightlifting a media place.